Friday, March 3, 2017

Ramming Speed Fridays: Mountain Folk Edition

Ok, the mountain bike race is progressing well.  We've got 26+ folks so far.  We've got racers signed up from five states.  I'm stoked to say the least.

The Mohican 100 is creeping up over the horizon.  So last night I made up a training calendar.  I’m not too late into the year to begin; especially considering that when I got to mountain bike races I’m not really racing.  

Why mountain bike racing?  Geez, why couldn’t I have been obsessed with nature photography?  I was at one time in my life.  When I was younger and better able to endure the suffering of an endurance race.  Should have flip-flopped passions.  And we come back to the hypothetical imagery that twenty-three year old me would punch forty-three year old me in the teeth.  I think Tyler Childers sang it better in William Hill:

…And I’ve turned into a stranger to the boy who left the creek…

He finishes that out with:

But I reckon if I’m lucky then I just might make it home;
Get a handle on my drinking, straighten up, and die alone.

So maybe I’ve got it better than I thought after all.  I’m not over the hill yet. 

Speaking of fine folk from Eastern Kentucky…

I read Hillbilly Elegy and I've listened to numerous interviews with and a TED talk by the author, and I wasn't impressed. It's not an accurate representation of Eastern Kentucky culture. J.D. Vance didn't grow up in Eastern KY. In fact, even his mother was a transplant to southwest Ohio. Vance was second generation Buckeye and his grandparents moved north when they were hard out of their teens. So his claim to be some kind of spokesperson for Eastern Kentucky is horse hooey. And while a lot of commentators are endeared to the way he refers to his grandmother as "Mamaw" his accent butchers it in such a way it sounds like he's trying to use the word to learn English.

A lot of people love this book, and it was a quick read. I can't say it was poorly written or that it's not engaging. But the claims Vance makes and the picture he tries to paint are simply not representative of life in Eastern Kentucky. It's a view through a very narrow window and it brings to light nothing but bad stereotypes. And as someone who spent a good deal of time in the same part of Ohio where Vance lived I can say that he should have called the book "White Trash Elegy" and left hillbillies out of it. Rednecks and white trash live everywhere and the culture Vance describes is more indicative of poor working class whites across the nation and does nothing to describe what it's like to grow up in Eastern Kentucky.

I posted those last two paragraphs on my Facebook page and then in response to another comment by a friend (who didn’t finish the book) I added:

…The other thing that really gets to me is that "success" seems to only be escaping poverty by moving away. I feel like I am and a lot of people I know who live in Eastern Kentucky are successful people. And I see a lot of nice homes and shiny cars and all of those things our consumerist society tout as being emblems of success. So why do we need to hear yet another story about the poor, stupid white people in Appalachia? Why not a tale of how great it is to live where we do and what wonderful people inhabit this place?

You realize this is a challenge I'm throwing out to myself?  I’m chucking that ball up in the air to hit myself, not pitching it to someone else.

I’m a native, but I am also a resident by choice.  I’ve moved away and moved back multiple times.  This big hole in the ground called the Red River Gorge keeps pulling me back into its gravity well.  I don’t truly know if it’s the landscape or the people.  Maybe both.  I know I feel more comfortable around the people I find here.  The interesting thing is that it’s all the people, not just friends and family who are natives.  Maybe I’m just more comfortable being social in this ecosystem.

Regardless, J.D. Vance knows nothing of the world I live in or the worlds that I touch.  I’ll admit I’m probably somewhat privileged in Eastern Kentucky, but there’s not much that separates me from the poorest people in the community where I live.  Slightly different circumstances in my life and I would have suffered deeply in the conditions that affect a lot of so-called “hillbillies.”

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